Archive

January 12th, 2016

What Happens When Private Money Pays for Science?

    As a select few accumulate massive fortunes, two schools of thought vie on how to funnel some of that money toward the public good. One school says to hike taxes on billionaires and let our elected officials spend the revenues on worthy projects. That's involuntary giving, and the giver doesn't have much of a say about where it goes.

    The other school backs the light taxation of great wealth and applauds when the superrich make large charitable donations. The giving is voluntary (spurred on by tax incentives), and the money goes exactly where the donor directs it.

    The second school, encouraged by the conservative doctrine of cutting taxes and spending, is winning. It's interesting, though, to examine where the private money ends up. Privatized funding for science has favored a few regions, and usually not the conservative ones. The big donor dollars have been congregating in progressive enclaves on the East and West coasts and in the Upper Midwest.

    Three examples:

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January 11th

Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility

    The epidemic of gun violence in our country is a crisis. Gun deaths and injuries constitute one of the greatest threats to public health and to the safety of the American people. Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. We’re the only advanced nation on earth that sees this kind of mass violence with this frequency.

    A national crisis like this demands a national response. Reducing gun violence will be hard. It’s clear that common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. Still, there are steps we can take now to save lives. And all of us — at every level of government, in the private sector and as citizens — have to do our part.

    We all have a responsibility.

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The Grand Old Party's Vision

    The new leader of the Republican Party seems to be as stuck in a time warp as the previous leadership. Somehow it simply does not spell leadership to me to take the umpteenth vote to kill the Affordable Health Care Act and the eighth in the last year to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. Methinks he would take matters even a step further making us appreciate the crying speaker of yesterday as looking better than we thought at the time.

    Someone should remind him if you keep on doing the same thing you will keep on getting the same results. I realize he would argue that he acquired a few more votes in the last election but a lesson in the Constitution that he and his party presumably venerate so much will make it clear that the results will be the same. Like it or not there is a third leg to this government and it is controlled by the President, a President with much more empathy for the needs of the population. I can hardly recognize this first vote of the new session as the all time accomplishment. Without doubt it does designate just where he stands.

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Russians have now learned to hack power grids

    A successful cyber-attack on a power grid is a nightmare that keeps intelligence services and security experts awake at night. Now the threat is no longer theoretical: A grid in Ukraine has been brought down by hackers. The vulnerability they used? As so often with hacking, human stupidity.

    The engineered blackout scenario is so scary Ted Koppel, the former "Nightline" host, recently published a book about it. In "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath," Koppel claimed the U.S. was unprepared for an attack on one of the three power grids that distribute electricity throughout the country. He wrote:

    "If an adversary of this country has as its goal inflicting maximum damage and pain on the largest number of Americans, there may not be a more productive target than one of our electric power grids."

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Rosa Parks is posthumously rewriting privacy law

    Rosa Parks now belongs to the ages -- literally. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled that the estate of the civil-rights pioneer can't block the use of her image on a commemorative plaque being sold at a Target near you because she and her story are matters of public interest. The case raised the crucial question of who owns a person's story once he or she has been in the news. Construed broadly, the decision could mean the end of life-rights sales to the motion-picture industry.

    Like most property rights, the privacy right to control your own image and story is a matter of state law. The federal court decided the case under Michigan law, because Michigan is where the foundation that inherited Parks's estate is located.

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Politicians forget that voters' rent is too high

    No one seems to talk about the U.S. real-estate bust anymore but its dark clouds are still hanging overhead. Homeownership is at 1967 levels. First-time homebuyers hit a record low last year, while the rental market is saturated, pushing rents up beyond the affordability point for tens of millions. Access to decent housing for the poorest families remains well below pre-recession levels.

    You might think, then, that housing would be an issue in the 2016 campaign and an untapped source of popular discontent. But candidates are saying almost nothing about it.

    The problem, largely one of affordability, keeps getting worse the more the mortgage crisis fades from view. Young adults with college debts and stagnant wages can't afford to buy homes or gain access to credit. Instead, they are renting for longer periods.

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Not punishing the Bundys for the Nevada standoff led to the occupation in Oregon

          It has become a familiar scene: a cluster of armed "patriots" gathered at a rural locale in the West, protesting federal land-use policies and disputing the legitimacy of the government back in Washington, while nearby, law enforcement officers act stunned into submission.

          That all unfolded again this past week in Burns, Ore., as a group of activists with guns seized a federal building on a wildlife refuge and demanded freedom for a couple of ranchers convicted of arson and sentenced to mandatory minimum prison terms, in what they claim is another example of extreme federal overreach.

          The local school district shut down, since it couldn't guarantee the safety of children traveling to and from school. Burns residents expressed agitation and exasperation with the standoff, since most, if not all, of the participants appear to live outside Harney County. The sheriff requested that the two dozen or so men holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge pack up and leave town.

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N.Korea wrecks Obama's nuclear dream

    Wednesday's North Korean nuclear test was a harsh reminder that President Barack Obama's drive to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is still very much a dream.

    Even as Iran begins implementing its side of a deal to reduce nuclear stockpiles, disconnect existing centrifuges and provide more transparency of its research, many of Obama's nuclear nonproliferation goals have been scrapped. His arms control agenda with Russia has stalled. The nuclear nonproliferation treaty remains in perilous shape. And North Korea is amassing a nuclear stockpile that could one day rival that of major nuclear powers.

    From Obama's perspective, things were not supposed to turn out this way. On April 5, 2009 from Prague, the new president declared: "Today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." He acknowledged that this goal would take time and persistence, but said, "we must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can.' "

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Making the decision to let an 8-year-old play tackle football

    "You're killing my dream!" my almost 9-year-old son wailed after I told him I wasn't sure if he would be allowed to play football in the fall.

    "Killing your dream?" I asked.

    "Don't you know the only thing I want to do is play football in the NFL, someday?" he moaned.

    "Don't you know how few players actually make it to the NFL?" I retorted.

    "YES! That's why I need to start practicing now! You're killing my dream!"

    Over the next few weeks, my son continued to lobby for permission to play football, and my husband and I responded by telling him all the reasons we were hesitant to give that permission, namely safety concerns, the time commitment, and more safety concerns.

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I got a second chance to fight gun violence

    The new year is a time of optimism and new commitments. For me, it's also a powerful time for an additional reason: Every Jan. 8, I think about how close I came to losing my life on a bright winter morning five years ago in Tucson, Arizona, when a would-be assassin opened fire on me and a group of my constituents, injuring 12 others and killing six.

    I was shot in the head from three feet away, but somehow I survived.

    I made a decision that my new life would be lived as my old life was: in service of our country. One thing that means for me today is using my second chance to do everything I can to make this great country safer from the kind of gun violence that took the lives of those around me and changed many others', and mine, forever.

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